Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fear and tranquility in the dead of night

Inspired by resent blog postings from Catra and Miki, I decided that I wanted to do a night run up Mission Peak. Besides, I hadn't been sleeping well lately with the heat and too many thoughts roaming around in my head. I was a little worried about how my legs would feel given that I had done a longer-than-planned run in the heat the day before while undernourished and carrying too little fluid. I decided I would head out from my house and run the 3.6 miles to the start to see how I felt and decide how far I would plan to go.

I headed out around 9:30pm and couldn't help but keep glancing up towards the peak; my excitement growing the closer I got. By the time I arrived at the Stanford Avenue parking lot there was little question in my mind. I would do my normal route up the main trail (Hidden Valley) then around the back side along Eagle Trail to connect with the Peak Trail going up and over the top then connecting back to Hidden Valley. I find this route is the most runnable and easy to follow path to the peak. It measures just over 7 miles making the total round trip around 14 1/4 miles door-to-door.

I brought a headlamp along, but the first part of the trail was fairly well lit from the glow of city lights and I decided not to use it. This running in the dark on a lonely trail was a wonderful sensation. I expected to have a little fear being out on the trail at night by myself, but really what I felt was a sense of tranquility and being at peace. It reminded me of the times when I was growing up living on Mt. Diablo and decided to wander around in the woods at night. I thought I would scare myself, but what I found was more a feeling of wonder and fascination. I had no problem with footing and was able to keep a fairly good pace thanks to the cool night air. Going up and over "the saddle" it became significantly darker and I knew I would need the headlamp with some slightly rockier trail up ahead.

It took a little while to get used to the headlamp. I've only run with one once before during The Relay but that was on roads. Ive also mountain biked and climbed with lamps, but it is very different. On the bike the light is pretty well fixed on the bike and climbing is such a slower paced activity. It took a bit to get the angle right and I found myself much more likely to look around at the random noises along the trail. I think this caused me to experience a little more fear than when I didn't have the light on. Of course, I was also on the slightly more remote section of trail and there was definitely something moving around in the trees near Laurel Loop :-). At any rate, I reached the peak in a little under 1:05 and stopped to take in the scene. And what a scene it was! The view up there is always good, but this was something else. Like sitting alone in an empty theatre watching your favorite movie, but it seems completely new because of the unique perspective. The air was probably in the mid-70s and clear as can be. I really wanted to stay up there, just sit and hang out, but it was now after 11pm and I thought I should head home. A brief snack and then down the mountain we go.

Running downhill in the dark definitely slowed my normal tendency to charge down with reckless abandon. You can't look very far ahead and plan your flight path. I noticed that I tend to lift my feet a lot more while running in the dark. Perhaps this is good training for me as I tend to sort of scuttle sometimes, especially on the flat parts. After arriving back on the front portion of the trail down, I decided that I was tired of the little circle of light again. I turned it off and headed down the fireroad. It probably wasn't the safest way to go, but it is pretty smooth trail and I know it like the back of my hand. I think I was even able to move a little better with it off, cruising down at an enjoyable pace with a big smile. It startled me when an owl took off from a nearby tree with a screetch, but then I told myself that we were both just two creatures of the night enjoying a beautiful summer evening. There really is something magical about running in the dark like that. I definitely want to return and do a run up here without any lights during a full moon.

Running the road home was obviously not nearly as satisfying, but it did give me an opportunity to let my thoughts wander a bit more. I planned a track workout for my son's basketball team, talked with my wife in my head telling her how much I love her and miss her and promised myself that the two of us would do a night hike together when she returns from NY. Once home, I decided to cap off this near perfect evening with a midnight dip in the pool.

I definitely enjoyed the night running, the solitude, the sense of adventure and the feeling of newness that it adds to a familiar trail.


miki said...

Yay!!!! Your run sounded really great. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. I'll have to try that Hidden Peak route and hopefully not get so lost. Ohlone Wilderness is next for the both of us I think. :D And I'm going to get that permit! If nothing but for peace of mind.

(Running in the dark down that mountain and alone? You're way braver than I am)

Eudemus said...

Yeah, not sure that "brave" is the right word :-). Other than races I pretty much always run solo. However, if you have some people interested in another night run up the peak give me a holler.

matt said...

i loved this report of your night run, Steve. i have done this just once myself, but had to overcome quite a bit of fear to do it. you brought back a lot of that excitement and wonder.

what kind of headlamp do you use?

Eudemus said...


Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed the report. I actually own a few headlamps since I used to rock climb. I used the Petzl Tikka Plus that night. I bought it used at REI, but it works wonderfully. I also have a Petzl Zipka Plus which is basically the same lamp, but with a zip-type head attachment for maximal weight savings. I have only used that running once when I did "The Relay" last year.